Today is going to be an extremely quick blogpost because I am pretty much under the gun. Were I a proper and responsible adult I would have posted something last night. However when I got home from work I was completely drained and while I hung out and played games for a bit… I also crashed significantly earlier than even my wife did. Today is going to be an extremely day as we are officially beginning our Christmas shopping. This is actually pretty good for us because in general we are those folks wandering around on Christmas Eve trying to find those last few gifts. I like getting stuff just as much as the next person, but I really wish there was a way to turn Christmas into Thanksgiving 2.0. The gift giving just seems to get in the way of what should be an otherwise amazing holiday.
There is the pressure to get something awesome for people who have literally not seen since last Christmas. Then you end up with the gift of shame… the gift card because really you have no clue at all what this person might want. Instead if it were just Thanksgiving 2.0… we would share a meal together, and a conversation and not be constantly dreading the impending gift exchange awkwardness. Personally I am one of those people that if I wanted it at all, I probably already bought it, and my wife is the same way. So I feel like we are both exceptionally hard to buy for… so mostly people just don’t try and we ultimately end up exchanging cash, either in gift card form or actual crisp bills. Which brings me back to… what exactly was the point? A nice meal, a conversation… those are the things that are really valuable.\
World Without Levels
Yesterday a couple of my friends spun topics off of yesterdays post. Lord Tridus commented that games should “Flatten or wipe out the level curve entirely and content now becomes scaled on gear”. As Rowan stated in his follow up post, this system already exists and is alive and well in The Secret World. The problem that I see with that system however is that you still have leveling in the form of total Ability Points gained, which are then used to purchase ability unlocks. In theory it works, but the problem with the system is it becomes increasingly difficult to “restart” and try and go down a completely different path. Ultimately this became a wall for many of my friends because the classes we wanted to play… ended up being ultimately completely unviable when we reached the endgame aka “Nightmare” content.
Without a way to completely reset your character we had no way of really retooling after spending all of this time leveling ourselves into a corner. Actually I experienced the same problem with playing Champions Online. If you failed to follow the magical golden functional path, that game became an unplayable mess with you reaching a point very early on when you simply could not do the content you needed to. The part of this equation that I feel has not been solved is how to grant abilities in a way that is not grindy. I personally find The Secret World somewhat frustrating when I think about grinding out enough ability points to earn all of the abilities. I spent probably hundreds of hours killing vampires in one of the higher level zones doing essentially just this… that and farming gear to be broken down into crafting materials. I just don’t see that as being the answer to the level problem either.
New Ability Gains
Ultimately the problem that remains is we need a new an interesting way of gaining abilities. I think maybe Guild Wars 2 at least had part of this equation right, in that the equipping of gear SHOULD be what unlocks your abilities. The component I would change to this equation however is that they “Teach” you abilities instead of only give you abilities while the item is equipped. This completely changes what is considered a valuable item. Sure a sword might not have as good of stats as the one you are currently wielding but if it gives you a new “Life Drain” ability that can be learned while completing content with it equipped… that would make it worth keeping until at least you had learned that ability. Random loot becomes interesting again because it might have an ability that you have not yet unlocked.
Ultimately this sort of system only works if you also have a limited amount of slots for you to put abilities in. I think this is pretty much going to be the rule going forward that you should have no more than one hotbar worth of abilities at any given time. This does two things for your game… firstly it makes it significantly easier for a new player to get into the game because they only have to learn so many keys to press at a given time. Secondly it allows your game to be ported to a console significantly easier due to the limited number of button press combinations available. The importance of making abilities in such a way so that no one ability is that much better than everything else is also key, that way there is a significant opportunity cost to each choice. In any case… I feel like a game without levels can work, but you also have to take away the ability grinds. To me at least, learning a new ability from an item, feels significantly less grindy than simply racking up a currency that you then spend to unlock things. I would love to hear other players thoughts on this concept as well.